Each year, millions of people visit Washington D.C. It is one of the most visited cities in the U.S. and for good reason. More people visit the National Mall each year than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined. The city is full of history, art, great food, cultural attractions, and much more. What most people don’t realize is that the surrounding areas of D.C. offer just as much with far fewer visitors.
There are nearby cities, state and national parks, mountains, beaches, caverns and historic sites. There’s something for everyone in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, so if you’re planning a trip to Washington D.C., consider adding on a few days for some day trips.
A Guest Post by Caitlyn Calabrese of Postcards From Cait
Assateague Island National Seashore, MD (~130 miles, 3 hours)
Assateague is one of the most famous campgrounds in the country, and one of the best beaches on the entire east coast. Enjoy swimming, crabbing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, or just lounging on the beach. You can certainly just come for the day but to have a real Assateague experience, you’ll want to set up a tent and camp out under the stars on the unspoiled beach. The best part? Wild horses and ponies roam the island.
Just be prepared and bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray if you’re going in the summer months. If you are looking to camp, reservations are available 6 months in advance, and in the summer months, they book up almost immediately so planning ahead is a must.
Annapolis, MD (~30 miles, 45 minutes)
Maryland’s capital city is located on the Chesapeake Bay. This charming city is known for historic inns, shopping, and fine dining. It’s home to the U.S. Naval Academy, which is open to visitors (check out events, tours, and performances). Walk down Main Street for shopping, dining, nightlife, and art galleries. Head to City Dock for some water tours, boat cruises, and sailing or some more fine dining and shopping. From here, you can also take a boat over to East Port, ‘the other side’ of Annapolis.
The Arts and Entertainment District is home to the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, numerous galleries, and more. If you are looking for a beach but don’t have the time to drive to Ocean City or Assateague, visit the nearby Sandy Point State Park which offers great views of the Bay Bridge.
Baltimore, MD (~45 miles, 1 hr)
Just a short 40 miles away from DC, Baltimore often gets overlooked. Baltimore, also known as Charm City, is an artsy, historic, and fun city. Visit one of the many quirky and charming neighborhoods, such as Locust Point, Fells Point, or Canton.
Locust Point is home to Fort McHenry, the place where Francis Scott Key wrote the U.S National Anthem during the War of 1812. Fells Point is home to galleries, taverns, boutiques, live music, and much more.
Enjoy a real Maryland crab feast at Captain James Seafood Palace, or “The Boat” in Canton. You’ll find plenty of entertainment and attractions in the Inner Harbor, such as historic ships, the Maryland Science Center, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, and the National Aquarium, one of the nation’s top 3 aquariums.
Harpers Ferry, MD, VA, WV (~65 miles, 1.5 hrs)
Harpers Ferry is a 19th-century village, home to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. The town offers a ton of history, great views, boutique shops and good eats. The park covers over 4,000 acres at the border of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. It’s also where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge. Harpers Ferry marks the midpoint and headquarters of the long distance AT (Appalachian Trail).
Visit the AT visitors center and gift shop where you’ll find maps, souvenirs, and an exhibit of the entire trail, which is over 2,000 miles long. While here, you can stroll around town, visit historic sites and museums, kayak, go white water rafting, camp, or hike one of Maryland’s most popular hiking trails, Maryland Heights. Maryland Heights is the highest mountain that overlooks Harpers Ferry, offering spectacular views.
Ocean City, MD (~150 miles, 3 hrs)
Ocean City is a popular resort town with 10 miles of beaches and a boardwalk with restaurants, shops, and hotels. You definitely won’t run out of things to do here! Take part in some water sports, like kayaking or boat tours, play some mini golf, or just hang out and swim at the beach.
If you’re looking for nightlife with a great atmosphere, definitely check out Secrets, the waterfront bar, restaurant, and nightclub. They offer Carribean-style food, specialty cocktails, and live entertainment every night. You can also float in the bay rafts while sipping on a cocktail. If it’s a weekend, you’ll want to get there early as lines can get really long.
Shenandoah, VA (~70 miles, 1.5 hours):
Shenandoah National Park is by far my favorite day trip from the city. You can get from D.C. to the northern end of the park in a short 1.5-hour drive and once you’re there is so much to do and see. Drive the scenic Skyline Drive and stop at some of the 70+ overlooks. Hike along some of the 500 miles of trails that the park has to offer.
Some of my personal favorites are Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, and Dark Hollow Falls. Keep your eyes out for bears on the way! After a long day of hiking, wind down at one of the many wineries in the surrounding area!
If you’re feeling adventurous, try experiencing the park via horseback or rock climbing. While in the area, head to Luray Caverns (the largest caverns in the eastern US), or maybe try rafting or kayaking down the Shenandoah River!
Great Falls Park, VA (~17 miles, .5 hours):
If you’re short on time, Great Falls Park is the perfect option for a quick trip out of the city. It’s only a half hour drive from D.C., yet it feels like it’s worlds away. Great Falls is a great spot for some short, yet scenic hikes or a picnic. The park is on the Potomac River, straddling Maryland and Virginia. The Potomac builds up speed and falls over steep rocks creating a bunch of small cascades.
It’s hard to believe you’re right outside of a major city when taking in these views. The Virginia side of the park is where you will find all of the overlooks and picnic tables. On the Maryland side, you’ll find one of the area’s most well-known hikes, the Billy Goat Trail.
Charlottesville, VA (~115 miles, 2.5 hrs)
Charlottesville, VA is right outside the south entrance of Shenandoah National Park, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville offers plenty of activities and things to do in a beautiful setting. You can enjoy some downtown shopping, apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard, swimming at nearby lakes and creeks, or historic sites including Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello and the University of Virginia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On top of all of this, Charlottesville is home to some of the best-produced wine and beer in the eastern US. The Monticello Wine Trail has 33 wineries and the area is also home to 11 breweries.
Richmond, VA (~110 miles, 2.5 hrs)
The capital of Virginia is one of America’s oldest cities. East of Charlottesville, Richmond offers history, museums, 15 craft breweries, food tours, boutiques, malls, and vintage shops. There are a wealth of tours and trails including the Richmond Craft Brewery Trail with over 30 craft breweries, the Garden Trail which features some of the country’s best gardens, and the Liberty Trail connecting Richmond’s historic sites and landmarks.
If you’re looking to be in the great outdoors, there’s water activities on the James River, and a wealth of hiking and biking trails in the area. If you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, Kings Dominion Amusement Park is just outside the city, in Doswell, VA.
Mount Vernon, VA (~20 miles, 30-45 minutes)
Only about 30 minutes south of Washington D.C., Mount Vernon offers an abundance of history. Take a tour through George Washington’s colonial mansion and stroll through the gardens on the grounds of the estate. Visit George Washington’s tomb and the Slave Memorial and Burial Ground.
Mount Vernon also includes a museum and education center, and you can take tours of the Pioneer Farm and George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill.
Take a scenic river cruise and stop in historic Old Town Alexandria on the way back, known as one of the South’s prettiest cities, with its preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture, fantastic outdoor restaurants, and outdoor movies.
Gettysburg, PA (~85 miles, 1.75 hrs)
Gettysburg, PA is known for its rich Civil War history and the Gettysburg Battlefield. In addition to this, there are many other things to do in the area, making it well worth a day trip from D.C. Tour the 6,000 acres Civil War military park via horseback, segway, carriage, bus, or your own car. After touring the battlefield, take a ghost tour around the town visiting fields, historic homes, inns, and taverns where investigations have been conducted discovering spirits left behind from the Civil War.
Check out Gallery 30, an American fine art and craft gallery on York Street. Go on a food tour or wind down at one of the area’s orchards, cellars, wineries or breweries for some tastings of wine, cider, beer, and spirits. If you’re looking for some outdoor recreation, head to one of the many golf courses in the area, go horseback riding, rent a bike, or walk among some of the area’s hiking trails. Join one of the organized day tour from Washington D.C. to make the most of your day in Gettysburg.
Rehoboth Beach, DE (~120 miles, 2.75 hrs)
If you’re looking for a family beach day, visit Delaware’s largest beach resort. Walk along the mile-long boardwalk that features shops and dining. If visiting on a weekend during the summer, enjoy free live music at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand. The area is also home to farmers markets, museums, art galleries, and parks. If you’re visiting with kids, check out Funland, a small amusement park and arcade on the boardwalk.
Try go-karts and mini-golf or spend some time at Jungle Jim’s, a waterpark that includes a wave pool, a lazy river, bumper boats, and giant water slides. If you’re looking for a little more peace and quiet, check out one of the Rehoboth Beach City parks or one of the nearby state parks, such as Cape Henlopen State Park or Delaware Seashore State Park.
Williamsburg, VA (~150 miles, 2.5 hrs)
Williamsburg is home to a wealth of historic sites and attractions. Some of the most popular ones are the Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th century Virginia, Yorktown Battlefield, where the U.S. gained its independence, and Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum. Explore the Colonial Williamsburg which has over 100 historic buildings with the costumed interpreters portraying historic figures who take you back in time to Colonial life in the 18th century.
Governer’s Palace is one of the important sites in the Colonial Williamsburg. The tour of the palace walks you through the lavishly decorated rooms, elaborate furnishings, artworks and a well-manicured garden.
In addition to history, Williamsburg offers its visitors plenty of fun, adventure, and relaxation. Williamsburg is home to Busch Gardens amusement park and Water Country USA, the mid-Atlantic’s largest water park. Catch a show or performance in one of Williamsburg’s theaters. Go on a ghost hunting tour or a food and wine tour. Tours are offered by foot, horseback, Segway, or even boat. Visit one of the area’s vineyards, breweries, museums, or art galleries or take a stroll on one of the trails along the James and York Rivers.
Luray Caverns in Virginia (~94 miles, 2 hrs)
Luray Caverns are one of the largest and most famous caverns in the US and the most popular in Virginia. Yes, Virginia is said to have over 4,000 caves most of which are also accessible to the public. Luray Caverns only a couple of hours from WDC is one of the best day trips from WDC. Luray Caves was discovered in1878 and was opened to the public in 2010.
The cave system consists of limestone formations of varied size and shapes which can be explored on well-lighted paved walkways. The temperature inside the Luray Caverns is a 12 deg constant with high humidity.
The caverns were once a sea and later when the water seeped out it resulted in the limestone formations. The tour of the caves lasts for about an hour where you get to explore spectacular formations of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, pools, and columns which are formed when the stalactites and stalagmites join. At the end of the tour, you will come across a large open area called the Cathedral which houses a church organ which produces tones by tapping the stalactites.
Other activities on a visit to Luray Caverns include a hedge maze and three museums which are included in the cave entrance fees. The 3 museums are Toy Town Junction Museum, the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum and the Luray Valley Museum displaying regional artifacts. There is also a restaurant and souvenir shop in the premises.
Philadelphia in Pennsylvania (~139 miles, 2.75 hrs)
Philadelphia is the largest city in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. For anyone visiting Philadelphia, the city tour starts with the Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Independence Hall is historically significant for it is the place where the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted. The entry to the Independence Hall is free but timed, the best option would be reserve a timed ticket online and collect on the day of the tour. Across the street from the Independence Hall is the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence. Read more about the Liberty Bell here.
If you love exploring museums you should visit the Benjamin Franklin Parkway which is the museum district of Philadelphia. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is boulevard lined with several important monuments and historic buildings including Philadelphia City Hall, Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and Swann Memorial Fountain. Prominent museums are the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum. The Rocky statue at the bottom of the stairs of the Art Museum is the most photographed spot.
About 10 minutes walk from the Art Museum is the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison. An audio-guided tour of penitentiary walks you through the prison cells, historical corridors with pictures of prisoners accompanied by the stories of inmates and numerous art installations.
The Italian market and the Reading Terminal Market are both foodie’s haven. You will find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and cheese and even restaurants and bakeries if you want to buy something to eat. Both the markets are over 100 years old and have some amazing history which you can explore on one of the walking tours.
Have you explored these amazing destination on a day trip from Washington D.C? Which is favorite one? Do share with us in comments.
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